Public Advocate Bill de Blasio minces no words when asked why he is running for mayor and why he feels he is the best choice for the Democratic nomination.
“I am fundamentally dissatisfied with things in the city,” he said last week at a meeting with the editorial board of the Queens Chronicle.
“I appreciate what is good ... and deeply appreciate that it has become safer in recent years, and some of the strengths we’ve seen in the economy,” he said. “But I am deeply dissatisfied with ... how the city treats the outer boroughs, and what’s happening to the middle class, which I feel is in deep decline in the city.”
De Blasio, a self-proclaimed Brooklyn guy, said he sees disparities in education, policing and code enforcement between Manhattan and the rest of the city, laying much of the blame at the feet of Mayor Bloomberg.
“It’s obviously very Manhattan-centric,” he said of the administration.
He asserted that his years in city government as public advocate, a member of the City Council and as a member of Mayor David Dinkins’ staff have given him keen insight into how the Mayor’s Office works.
“The four years I spent on David Dinkins’ staff were four very tough years in the city’s history,” he said. “I learned how things work, but most important, I learned how the office functioned, the pace, the kind of intensity that goes with it.
“It’s partly about a vision for the future of the city and in part it’s the work I’ve done,” he said. “I don’t think you can be a good mayor without both. Great experience without vision gets you nowhere. Great vision without experience gets you nowhere.”
The cornerstone of de Blasio’s campaign is his early education package which includes mandatory pre-kindergarten, as well as greatly expanded after-school programs for middle schoolers whose parents choose to take advantage of them.
He would pay for it with a tax increase on the city’s highest income earners.
De Blasio also believes he would be the first mayor elected with children in the city’s public schools.
“That sounds shocking, but there is a long unfortunate history of elected officials making decisions about schools they would never send their own children to,” he said.
“The only way to fix schools is to start addressing the early childhood education needs,” he said. “It allows kids to succeed in school and helps people prepare for the kind of learning that is needed in a modern economy. But it’s also a great equalizer in a system plagued by great disparity. It gives kids without advantages a chance to catch up.”
After-school programs, he said, not only help children who might need the extra attention with their schoolwork, but serve] as a public safety measure as well.
“It keeps kids safe,” he said. “It also keeps them away from bad influences.”
He applauds Bloomberg for gaining mayoral control, and would retain it, though he believes what he calls the mayor’s absolutism has soured the public’s perception.
On public safety, de Blasio has vowed that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly will go; that he will appoint an inspector general to oversee his new commissioner; and that the practice of stop and frisk will end.
“It has a boomerang effect,” de Blasio said of the latter. “It has poisoned the relationship between the police and the community.”
He believes that it takes time away from higher priorities, and disrupts the flow of information from the community to police.
The next mayor will inherit expired contracts with every municipal union in the city, a condition de Blasio called unconscionable.
“This is the residue of having a billionaire mayor,” he said. “No normal person would have gotten away with this. The result is a manmade fiscal crisis.”
De Blasio said settling the contracts will take hard negotiations, and will have to work itself out over many years as the mayor is required to have a balanced budget.
“The unions helped the city back in the 1970s, when they were in a much tougher situation,” he said, adding that the negotiations, though tough, also must be respectful.
“Show me the result of Bloomberg attacking the [United Federation of Teachers] incessantly,” he said. “Show me the cost savings. Show me the productivity.”
The public advocate has savaged Bloomberg for the large and still growing increase in the number of fines levied on small businesses for code violations — particularly outside of Manhattan.
He said Bloomberg has issued more summonses to bolster city revenue rather than to make the city safer.
“Day one, just call off the dogs,” he said. “Any violation that is not an immediate threat to health and safety, give them a chance to correct it.”
On more Queens-specific issues, de Blasio said he is dubious that a soccer stadium could work in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but that if it did, the city must get at least the same acreage of parkland back, and that there must be a financial commitment to support of the park.
He said the United States Tennis Association, which has been a boon to the city, also must compensate the city inch for inch if it takes up any new parkland for an expansion.
Affordable housing is a key to his plans to boost the middle class, and he said the recent plan to redevelop Willets Point is not what he voted to approve in the City Council.
“Bait and switch,” he said. “I voted for that plan on the basis of early and significant affordable housing and I don’t see it.”
De Blasio said the city should seriously consider restarting the old Rockaway Beach rail line, all while considering neighborhoods’ desires for either a high-line park or, in some cases, to do nothing.
“Do something,” he said “Invest in Queens. To do nothing is a horrible wasted opportunity ... and if you don’t choose transportation, be certain you have made the right choice.”
He said he still has not fully decided his views on bringing table games to the Resorts World Casino.
Citywide, he said LGBT issues come under the umbrella of a mayor’s obligation to create unity rather than divisions in the city. He cited a recent candidate forum before an Orthodox Jewish audience, where an opponent criticized a recent gay pride parade and, de Blasio claimed, the right of the LGBT community to promote its issues.
“I called him out on it, and I got heckled,” he said. “That tells me there is a lot of work to be done.”
Two specific areas he said need more attention and funding are services for seniors in the LGBT community, and for those youths who are homeless or runaways.
De Blasio said a major component of his middle-class program is the retention and expansion of the small business and industrial sectors.
“I don’t think it’s a state secret that Mayor Bloomberg did not value manufacturing jobs,” he said.
As mayor he would like to divert financial incentives now aimed at large corporations to a revolving loan fund for small business, which he said would expand employment and city tax revenue throughout the city.